We might be forgiven for thinking that the business of personal exploration and investigation is dead – killed by the internet and its supposed ability to supply all the information we ever need. I’ve dialled up the internet…Google and Bing and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram…and I am starting to come to the conclusion that the only valuable resource I have is my own experiments.
This is not to say that the various photographic websites cannot deliver something – if they originate from major manufacturers or wholesalers they can be comprehensive lists of specifications. These are valuable if you are compiling a shopping list or a comparative article. Of course, as a consumer rather than maker, I am going to have to use what they produce – but at least I can get an idea what is on offer. But the funny thing about those detailed specification lists is that they can give only a vague and hazy idea of the value of many things.
A lot of them assume you know what they are talking about. Take the specifications that deal with using a DSLR camera to make professional video productions. They may well be telling true things and valuable things, but I am willing to bet that 99% of the people reading the spec. sheet have no idea what they are talking about. I know I did not when I was tasked with selling them, and could only point mutely at the pamphlets and mumble an inadequate ” Wot they said ” response to enquiries. There was a lot of room for error there.
And some writings are pure bamboozlement from start to finish, though not of a guilty sort. There are still advertising departments and writers who are approaching English as a marvel…and the rest of us are hard put to share their wonder. I should think it well worth the price of professional proofreading for any language used, and that the proofing should come from a working photographer who uses the vernacular of that language. Where this has been done by Japanese and German companies the brand bonding call to the English-speaking reader has been very effective.
But finding things out for yourself? Well, if the only time you can do it is in the retail shop, then you really should go prepared. Write yourself a list of what you want to find out about the camera or lens. I have emboldened the personal word there to hint that you should keep that list to yourself. No salesperson wants to have the thing thrust into their face. Ask nicely for a camera or lens that you feel will do what you want to do.
Make the device do it – in your own hands. Repeatedly. If you cannot accomplish this, ask the sales staff to help you. If they cannot do it, or can do it but not explain what they have done, you have found out a very valuable thing. If they tell you that they do not have time to show you, this is even more valuable information.
If you ask for something that is actually impossible – and people have done so from the start of photography – good sales staff will break this gently to you. They will then question you to find out what exactly it is that you want to do and they may be able to lead you round to approaching the task correctly.
But the best experiments are made away from the sales floor. If you cannot borrow the equipment you covet, rent it. Pay a couple of days rental and get out there and go mad. Do the things you want to, then look at the results. Then do things that you have not done before and see if it can succeed. You may get far more value than the rental fee – whether you get a negative impression or a positive one, you will get a genuine feel for it all.